Archive for November, 2008



A friendly blue robot.

A friendly blue robot.

Going to the San Francisco Autoshow the Saturday after Thanksgiving is one of the few non-holiday family traditions that we stick too. My Mom, Aunts and a Cousin all go shopping in the city on Black Friday and the following Saturday, while my Dad, my Brother, his girlfriend and myself all go to the autoshow.

It is a fun thing to do, especially now that I am starting to look at buying a car for graduate school. I know that I will not be getting a new 2009 or 2010 model car, it just helps to look at what I do like in a car so I can narrow down what type of used car I want. Besides cheap that is.

At the show my brother observed that all of the cars tires were rotated so that the emblems were right side up. I wonder whose job that is.

There were a lot of cars and by the end of the evening they all started to blend together into one homogenous car. There was a bit more hybrid and fuel cell cars at the show this year then previous year (though I did miss last year). Surprisingly there was no Tesla Roadster at the show, usually they have a boot right at the entrance. This year it was taken up by small smart cars. 

The best part was the robot at one of the car makers sections named Henry. He did a really good job at interacting with the audience, remembering names, asking relavant questions, picking out family members and recognizing when his picture was about to be taken. He was on the left side of the uncanny valley which helped. His legs though were bolted into the floor so he could only move above the waist, if he could walk freely around it would be a lot better.

He would not pass the turing test though since some of his questions repeated with the same inflection and pace. Then again he would also fail on the fact that he is in now doubt a blue robot.

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Holidays revolve around food.

Holidays revolve around food.

Returning home after several months at college is such a strange experience. Especially Thanksgiving. It is a three day taste of home before returning to not only the intensity of school but dead and finals weeks as well. After the two hardest weeks of the quarter the journey home begins again. This is probably not as strange for those who live close enough to home to return on weekends, for those of us who chose to be a good distance away home is a place only visited for Thanksgiving, Christmas break, Spring Break and Summer. Aside from those four time periods home is our rooms at school.

The transition may seem radical: a college dorm or apartment to a house you grew up in. The norms and habits are so very different. Except childhood muscle memory always kicks in. Chores that were done growing up become standard once again, eating with the family something to look forward too, even the hours awake change back to those growing up. At school getting tired at around midnight seems slightly odd while not being in bed by midnight is strange at home. 

The strangest part is the subtle changes. Fixtures around the house change, door handles are replaced, curtains disappear and occasionally a wall changes color. Pets grow slightly or become better behaved (that is actually a rare occurrence). Seasons are weird also. Santa Barbara has no seasons aside form Sun and Rain while going home thrusts me into the normal (for me growing up) cycle of the seasons. I went from a slightly rainy Santa Barbara to the winter of my youth. The clouds, the temperature and the smells bring back the middle of winter. Oddly I miss real winter when I am in Santa Barbara. 

There is also the slow encroachment of space. Some of my friends have completely lost their rooms to siblings or parents. In my case my room is rapidly turning into a second office and a guest room, me as the guest. I mean my posters and books and stuff are all there, but ever slowly more filing boxes appear and a few more shelves are requisitions for business use.

An inability to do work arises as well. Over the summer I spent my time at home luxuriating in the lack of work that I needed to do. I read, I played video games and I took naps in the sun. Now when I return home with piles of work to do I cannot muster the motivation to do any of it. While at school I can easily work twelve hours straight I can barely do a hour of work without drifting off or finding a snack. Part of it is that I never had a dedicated work space growing up since I never had much homework in high school.

People change. It is not that bad now that I am a fourth year, but for my freshman year coming home for the first time was strange. I was no longest the same person who left two months before. The same thing happened after five months in Europe, people change. That is the point of college in the end, growing.

Going home is always a strange experience. The eight hour car ride is like a journey to another world. In a way it is relaxing but in a way there is always a sense of wonderment at the distinct world of home.

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A rusty bit of tonemapping.

A rusty bit of tonemapping.

Hopefully everyone has had a good Black Friday. I was not a full participant, I did not wait in line at 5am for doorbusters. Rather I helped move some very heavy conference tables and went out around six in the evening to do some shopping.

Not as much debris or wounded store staff as I expected.

For another set of Photomatix presets:I used Details Enhancer on this original photo:

  • Strength: 100
  • Saturation: 60
  • Luminosity: +2
  • Light Smoothing: High
  • Microcontrast: +6

Tone Settings:

  • White Point: 0.808
  • Black Point: 0.250
  • Gamma: 1.01

Color Settings:

  • Temperature: 0
  • Saturation Highlights: +1
  • Saturation Shadows: 0

Smoothing Settings:

  • Micro-smoothing: 2
  • Highlights Smoothing: 21
  • Shadows Smoothing: 22
  • Shadows Clipping: 0

After I finished setting this up and actually looked at the preset values I realized something: I used a previous preset to tonemap this. So I guess there is nothing new here.

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The golden hills of California, made of grass.

The golden hills of California, made of grass.

I hope everyone is having a happy and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

If you are British maybe you can be thankful that you got rid of those pesky colonists.

The important part of this day is to spend time with family and eat enormous amounts of delectable dishes and perfect pies.

And of course celebrate the spirit of America by preparing for Black Friday.

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Thanksgiving Traffic


Some bikes are unloved.

Some bikes are unloved.

I had a theory. I though that if instead of taking Highway 101 from Santa Barbara to my house in Sonoma County that it might be faster to go up to Sacramento and cut over and this avoid the traffic of Marin.

Well I was wrong.

The traffic that I normally encounter when going home for Thanksgiving (by bumming rides off of friends) is normally intense in Marine due to everyone going north. There are also exits, merging freeways and bridge like things.

Today the traffic had no discernable cause. We were on Highway 5. In the middle of Nowhere, California. Nothing in any direction, no traffic accidents, no off ramps, no buildings not even any cows. Not a single feature to look at aside from road and traffic. Yet there was traffic.




The drive normally takes (Santa Barbara to Sacramento) six hours or so. At hour seven and a half we could see the off ramp leading to my friends house. The front right tire blew out.

We pulled over and he fixed it while I held my flashlight to illuminate his handiwork. Once we arrived at his house I was then picked up by a family member and taken the rest of the way home. Ten hours.

Ten hours is roughly three more hours then I prefer to be in the car when driving to and from school. But then again Thanksgiving Eve has the heaviest traffic of the year. Or at least of the year when I am on the road.

Seriously though, traffic on Highway 5?

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Rainy Day


Rain should never spoil travel plans.

Rain should never spoil travel plans.

It rained today in Santa Barbara, a rare event. It was not a real rain though, not a rain that lasts for the full day and is audible from inside any building. The sky did not darken nor did any lake size puddles form.

It was a british rain. A light sprinkle followed the afternoon into the evening. The rain did not commit, it did not impress, it did not drench, the rain just annoyed.

I guess that today is the day where summer ends in Santa Barbara and the rainy season begins.

It is a good thing I am leaving for home tomorrow.

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Good graveyards in Europe.

Good graveyards in Europe.

A little bit ago I did a review of iPhoto Print Service, Snapfish and Shutterfly. I mentioned how my first set of photos from Apple never arrived. Well they came today. They were printed on October 7th and took a month and a half to arrive.

Not the best of delivery times.

Instead of being the smallest possible (4×6) these are the larger 5×7 prints. I did not think that an inch in each direction would make such a difference but it really does. Of those that I ordered and liked in the smaller format they looked a lot better slightly larger. One of the ones that turned out alright on a 4×6 really improved as a 5×7 since more details could be made out.

It tempts me to order a set of 10×14 photos from one of the three services.

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School can be surprisingly busy, like this photo.

School can be surprisingly busy, like this photo.

Somewhere between High School and now weekends lost their appeal. During high school and even to some extent my freshman year weekends were this glorious time in which school was left aside and the days were thrown open to possibility.

That possibility is crushed now.

Weekends are now bastions of work and chores. Days lost to lab work and evenings devoured by applications.

Time lost to physics, time lost to school and time lost to keeping up.

The shift has been so gradual that I have not noticed till now. I suppose I started doing an hour or so at the beginning and now it has grown to become twelve hours of work every day of the week. A little respite at times of Thursday and Friday but always with the caveat in the back of the mind that there is more work to do.

It is really a challenge to just remain afloat.

Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, I enjoy it. I suppose if I was an accounting major I would not be happy but since I am doing physics it is worth it.

I guess I am trying to say that it is good to study what you love because towards the end it is all you have left.

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Fencing, get it, fencing.

Fencing, get it, fencing.

I had my first fencing tournament today at Cal Poly (SLO). I was competing in the mixed novice foil competition against about fifty other people. After the first five bouts, which are used to determine which pool I go into and initial rank, I was placed at 36th out of the fifty. Not too hopeful.

After we were placed into pools we had direct elimination bouts until only one person remained (I mean all of us did live in the end). I manage to win my way up to the top eight fencers. Then I lost to a friend from club, Alexei, who went on to come in first. I feel better knowing that the person I lost too was both from my club and also won overall. This gives me the illusion that I could have come in at least second if the matchings had been different.

I am fairly confident that this match was for all of California as there were people from Davis to (I think) San Diego. If that is the case then I am happy with being 8th in the state for novice foil. I know that one tournament cannot decide that (I was 31th nationally in the UK for Novice Gents Indoor Recurve or 171st for UK Gents Indoor Recurve) but it does feel good to have a nice ribbon.

Admittedly I wish I had won first, or at least received a metal.

Oh and it is called the Turkey Tournament since there is large turkey feed afterwards for those who wanted to go, we passed and went to In ‘N Out burger.

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Nothing to see here, move along.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Fall quarter is a very sneak quarter.

The beginning is a fresh year, time to accomplish anything, finals a distant future.

A few weeks in a groove is found, it is known when homeworks are due and when to do them (most of the time the day before).

Then without out warning you are mired in a sea of midterms, one, two, three in the first week. Then that fourth class goes rogue assigns one in the week after that.

Maybe a week of respite or maybe a class has a misunderstanding of the word “midterm” and there is a second or third from the class.

By this time Halloween has gone and November is in full force. Climbing out of midterms and exams you look towards the future and see food.

Piles, mounds, gobs of delicious consumables. Thanksgiving holiday is coming. Rides home are arranged and life looks good. The short week before has some minimal homework but mostly it is about stretching before the big day.

Just one thing lies beneath of the surface of conciousness, a whisper in the dark that barely wakes you in the dark as you dream of pie mountains:

Dead week.

Right after Thanksgiving is Dead Week. Some believe it was named because there were no classes before finals or that work was limited. My theory on the origins of this name is that the week makes us envy the dead. 

Rest is gone and finals are here. Even more critically it is when all of the applications tend to be due: study abroad, summer internships, graduate school or research proposals.

Then it is over. It is done. With the beauty of the quarter system every obligation and class requirement is gone like the memories of October. Two, maybe three weeks of rest before Winter Quarter.

Winter Quarter is not a sneaky quarter.

It is just wet.

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